Most businesses looking to upgrade their phone communications are taking advantage of the benefits a VoIP system and service has to offer. Productivity, internal communications, and customer satisfaction all can achieve measureable improvement through VoIP technology. Below are a few items to review to ensure your business is ready for a conversion to VoIP.
- Hosted vs. On-site – The first question to be addressed is if your business should invest in an on-site VoIP system versus a Hosted system. The advantage of a Hosted VoIP Service is that the up-front investment is much lower, as you are only purchasing the VoIP handsets and some minor equipment. Typically, the hosted provider will handle your administration as well. Your monthly service is a function of the number of users/phones you have on the system. On-site systems are much more expensive up-front and you have responsibility for administration. However, if you provision sip trunks to the system, you only need to provision the number of trunks to match your maximum concurrent call volume.
- Existing Telecom Contract – Check with your current phone service provider to determine whether you are under contract. Many have automatic renewals that kick in without notice. If you are planning on switching in the near future, understanding the nature of automatic renewals and cancellation notice requirements is important.
- Bandwidth Requirements – VoIP does not require much bandwidth, only 80kb per call, both upload and download. Gain an understanding of your maximum concurrent calls as well as your current bandwidth utilization. A wired internet connection to the building is highly recommended. If you are already experiencing the effects of bandwidth saturation, you should consider expanding your bandwidth prior to deploying VoIP.
- Ethernet – VoIP phones require an Ethernet connection to the phone. Most VoIP phones have two ports, so it can share an Ethernet connection with a computer. Most of the VoIP phones have 100mb ports. If you have built your internal network to gigabit speeds, there are some VoIP phone models with 1gb ports. One “gotcha” we run into a lot when converting companies from analog phones to VoIP are wall mounted locations. Ethernet cabling will need to be run to those locations and power delivery is also a consideration.
- Power Requirements – VoIP phones require power, and there are a couple of options. Traditional power cords from the phone (provided with the phone) to an outlet are the least expensive alternative. You can also deliver power to the phone over the Ethernet cabling if you deploy Power over Ethernet (POE) switches on your network. This is a very nice luxury, as it removes the power cord from the desk area, but POE switches come in at a premium over standard switch pricing. If you are deploying a wall mounted phone or phones, or even a conference room phone where you don’t want to be inhibited by a power cord, POE becomes more than a necessity. If you don’t want to spring for a full switch that is POE enabled, there are some single port POE injectors that will deliver power to the single phone.
- Paging – Many VoIP phones and hosted service provides offer paging to phones, direct paging, and paging groups. Additional considerations come into play if you have any overhead paging systems tied into the phone system. There are some adapters on the market that will allow for this, but be sure to have a conversation with your potential providers to see how they will accommodate your needs in this area.
- Provider Selection – The good news is that you have a large pool of potential providers to choose from. For hosted services, your phone equipment and service will come from the same provider. Every company has their own priorities and goals that will influence provider selection, but there are a few characteristics that should be table stakes for your potential provider:
- Do they promote best in class VoIP phone manufacturers? Cisco and Polycom are great examples.
- Does their service footprint cover your potential for growth and expansion?
- How do they address Quality of Service? Most suggest more bandwidth. sipVine contends that QoS is best handled by a local device to prioritize voice packets. Read more in our VoIP Voice Quality whitepaper.
- Does the provider require a term contract and do they build the phones in a locked manner? Hosted VoIP providers confident in their delivery of service do not build in such restrictions.
- Do they provide a consultative service to effectively build your system to match how you do business? Good providers help you take advantage of the power and flexibility of these solutions through custom programming. If the providers provide a web portal for you to do it yourself, be wary. It is cool, but it also speaks to their service philosophy.
- What is the provider’s customer service philosophy? Do they essentially become an extension of your company and function as your phone department? Wouldn’t that be refreshing? It is what your business deserves!
I hope this checklist of items has been a good resource for you as you evaluate the potential of moving to a VoIP system. Your comments are welcome!
About the author: Mark Greim is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at sipVine, a provider of a variety of digital phone solutions and services. Mark has extensive experience working for start-up or entrepreneurial organizations and has a passion for affordable, reliable, and purposeful technology solutions in those environments.